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Self-Compassion: The Art of Tending to Your Struggles with Loving-kindness Instead of Self-criticism

Self-Compassion: The Art of Tending to Your Struggles with Loving-kindness Instead of Self-criticism

Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT

Kimberley Quinlan is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California. Specializing in anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and body-focused repetitive behaviors, she provides one-on-one treatment and online courses for those who are struggling in these areas.

Kimberley is known for her vibrant and mindful approach to mental health issues. In addition, she is an expert presenter and support group facilitator for various conferences such as the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) Conference, Trichotillomania Learning Center Conference, and Los Angeles County Psychological Association Eating Disorder Interest Group.

She has been featured in many world-renowned and prestigious media outlets, such as The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR (National Public Radio), KCRW public radio, The Seattle Times, and The Australian Newspaper. Kimberley has also consulted on various mental health issues with programs such as ABC’s 20/20 and Telemundo.

 

Self-Compassion: The Art of Tending to Your Struggles with Loving-kindness Instead of Self-criticism

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Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT

Everyone suffers.  There is no way to avoid it.  Being a human can be, simply put, very hard.   Maybe your suffering comes in the form of being stressed with an overwhelming work schedule? Burned out? Suffering from anxiety, depression, or another mental struggle? Perhaps you are managing strained relationships?  Or experiencing grief and loss about the ongoing pandemic? You might be worried about a family member who is also suffering?  Suffering is the tax on being human.

As we acknowledge that everyone suffers, it is important that we recognize that the experience of suffering can feel lonely and isolating. We feel like no one would understand how difficult this moment is for us or how alone we feel in our suffering.  In addition, how we respond to our suffering can be radically different.  For many, when facing a struggle, we become very hard on ourselves.  We criticize ourselves for having the struggle in the first place and judge ourselves harshly for how we are coping.  We may even go as far as punishing ourselves for the struggle or adversity, hoping that if we discipline ourselves, we might prevent this problem from arising again in the future.  

While this response is a natural human response to our struggles, unfortunately, this response generally only creates more problems and more suffering and creates a cycle of self-criticism, self-judgment, and self-punishment. Alternatively, when we are faced with adversity, we can gently step away from negative self-talk and self-punishment and instead, treat ourselves with kindness and self-compassion.  When we do this, we make space for the emotions we feel and we create a safe place to experience these emotions as they rise and fall.  

Self-Compassion is the act of treating ourselves with the same tenderness as we would treat a dear friend if they were dealing with a similar stressor. Self-Compassion is tending to our struggles with warmth, empathy, and a genuine desire to care for ourselves during difficult times.  

Before practicing self-compassion, it is important to address some of the common roadblocks to self-compassion.  Many people are fearful that practicing self-compassion will result in one becoming self-absorbed, selfish, or lazy, to name just a few of the concerns.  We understand that these misconceptions come from being raised in a society that prides itself on “pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps” and pushing through pain to achieve success, approval, and accolades.  I once worked at a large corporation where the company uniform was a t-shirt that said “You can rest when you are dead!” on the back.  I have read countless books that credited their mental health recovery to strict and intense negative reinforcement. I am sure you have similar stories of how people pride themselves on these aggressive “qualities.”  

The good news is that we now have tons of research to dispel these myths.  We now know that self-compassion is a better motivator than self-criticism and, in fact, significantly reduces procrastination.  The practice of self-compassion decreases anxiety levels, depression levels and increases general well-being.  People who practice self-compassion feel more competent and are less likely to isolate when they are struggling.  For those with a mental health disorder, self-compassion has been shown to increase treatment outcomes and reduce overall emotions such as shame, guilt, and grief.  I could use up the entire word count of this article relaying the benefits of self-compassion, as the list is long and shines a light on the importance of this practice in daily life.  

There are many ways in which you can practice self-compassion.  One of the most common ways to practice self-compassion is with your words.  Instead of using self-critical phrases such as “You are so stupid! Why do you act this way?”, you might first work at replacing that with responses such as, “It makes sense that you would feel that way about this event.  Anyone would feel similarly in that situation.”  

You could also choose to respond to your struggle by gently coaching yourself through a difficult moment instead of beating yourself up and threatening yourself with self-punishment.  A Self-Compassionate response might sound like, “This is really hard for me. However, I am sure many others are dealing with similar struggles. Let’s just take one moment at a time.”

Another wise way to practice self-compassion is with physical touch.  When you are struggling, how do you relate to yourself physically? Do you tense up your fists or shoulders?  Do you clench your jaw? Compassionate touch can help soothe you during times of difficulty. For example, gently rubbing your sore shoulders or tenderly holding our palm to your temples during a tension headache can be an genuine act of self-kindness during a painful moment.

Lastly, there are many meditative and cognitive self-compassionate practices that can help you access the compassionate self that lives within you.  Many people feel that their compassionate self does not exist, but this is simply not true.  Just like anything, being self-compassionate is a skill that you can learn over time, one step at a time.  

If you are interested in learning more about how to practice self-compassion, check out the ADAA webinar or listen to Kimberley’s podcast, “Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast” where she features many self-compassion practices.  You may also visit CBTschool.com for more free resources on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.

Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT

Kimberley Quinlan is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California. Specializing in anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and body-focused repetitive behaviors, she provides one-on-one treatment and online courses for those who are struggling in these areas.

Kimberley is known for her vibrant and mindful approach to mental health issues. In addition, she is an expert presenter and support group facilitator for various conferences such as the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) Conference, Trichotillomania Learning Center Conference, and Los Angeles County Psychological Association Eating Disorder Interest Group.

She has been featured in many world-renowned and prestigious media outlets, such as The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR (National Public Radio), KCRW public radio, The Seattle Times, and The Australian Newspaper. Kimberley has also consulted on various mental health issues with programs such as ABC’s 20/20 and Telemundo.

 

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